With the end of MLB's regular season coming next week, Bally Sports will review the performance of each club with an eye looking at what happened in 2021 and another at what could happen next season. Our next Exit Interview is with the Cleveland Guardians.
What went right
• Right-hander Cal Quantrill blossomed into one of the top AL pitchers in the second half, posting a 2.82 ERA in his first 39 appearances, including 21 starts.
• José Ramírez always goes right. He’s one of the top five hitters in the AL and a plus defender at third base. A perennial MVP candidate and always fun to watch.
• They’re middle of the pack on defensive runs saved, with plusses including catcher (Austin Hedges), third base (Ramírez) and left field (Oscar Mercado). Andres Giménez, Bradley Zimmer and Myles Straw, too, have been positives on defense.
• They’re close to surpassing 200 home runs (thank you Ramírez and Franmil Reyes), which gets them into the middle with team slugging. They’re in the top five in stolen bases and they’re near the top third in fewest strikeouts.
• Emmanuel Clase has been the real deal at the back end of the bullpen, throwing about 100 mph and saving 24 games.
• Anthony Gose used to be a major league outfielder, but five years later has transformed himself into a major league pitcher who throws 101 mph.
• Amed Rosario is batting .309/.332/.452 in the second half and has been especially tough on left-handed pitching. Finding a spot for him on defense might be tough.
What went wrong
• Health problems continued to plague manager Terry Francona, who had two operations and was forced to finish the season on the sidelines. He plans to manage again in 2022, and DeMarlo Hale did fine in his interim, but not having Francona in place wasn’t ideal in helping Cleveland maintain continuity. And it stinks for Francona, whose Cleveland teams have a .556 winning percentage in nine seasons.
• Starting pitching hasn’t been as much of a plus this season, as Cleveland has posted a middle-of-the-pack 4.31 ERA, also reflected in their mediocre strikeout and walk numbers. It was expected to be better and probably will be in 2021.
• He just threw three no-hit innings in his first start since going on the injured list with a sore elbow — so that’s good — but not having right-hander Shane Bieber for half of the season considerably diminished Cleveland’s chances to contend.
• James Karinchak’s figurative implosion coincided with umpires cracking down on sticky stuff. One of the top relievers in 2020, he had to be sent to the minors in late August.
• Josh Naylor’s brutal leg injury was an emotional low point.
• They are 20th in runs scored and only slightly better in the second half. Only three teams are worse at getting on base.
Ramírez won’t get much MVP love, but he’s the best third baseman in MLB.
Clase, although reliever Nick Sandlin (before injuring his shoulder) and first baseman Bobby Bradley showed good signs too.
Reasons for optimism
• Everybody other than catcher Roberto Pérez is younger than 30 years old.
• Right-hander Triston McKenzie has a 63/11 K/BB ratio in the second half, and had a 1.76 ERA in a seven-start stretch in the second half. A rotation including Bieber, Quantrill, Civale and McKenzie would be the envy of many teams.
• Eli Morgan has a 3.96 ERA, with only seven home runs allowed, in his past 10 starts.
What needs work
• Straw was a good pickup in center field, but — if you count Reyes as a DH — the outfield as a group remains mostly barren. If Nick Castellanos declining his $16 million option happens, snatching him from the Reds would work.
• The farm system ranks 13th at MLB.com and, while they have five top-100 prospects, none are in the top half of the top-100. Shortstop Tyler Freeman might be ready by the end of next season, though he had to be shut down for shoulder surgery.
Check out our earlier MLB Exit Interviews: